Leader Blues

Friday, August 15, 2008

EDITORIAL >>A lion on the court

Ordinarily we celebrate for people who after a long and abundant career take a well-deserved retirement, but we were somehow grieved by the news that Justice Tom Glaze was retiring from the Arkansas Supreme Court. At 70, Mr. Justice Glaze was the oldest and longest-serving member of the court and a quiet stalwart for an independent judiciary and adherence to the Constitution.

Will his absence, we wondered, mean any less devotion to those principles? Gov. Beebe will appoint someone to complete the final 28 months of Glaze’s term, and we trust that he will choose wisely, which is to say someone in the mold of Thomas A. Glaze.

Glaze has spent nearly 30 years on the bench, first as a chancery judge, then as a judge on the Arkansas Court of Appeals and since 1987 as a justice of the Supreme Court. He was always Exhibit A for the premise that elected judges can be as fiercely independent as those appointed for life. He never cast a sidelong glance at the next election. For a half-dozen years, as the landmark Lake View school case bounced up and down through the courts, he insisted that, whatever the politics and the cost, the court do its duty and see to it that the state obliged the unmistakable mandate of the Constitution that it provide a suitable and equal education for all children. The court eventually did its duty and the legislature and the governors, Huckabee and Beebe, thereby did theirs.

We remember the young Glaze, a struggling North Little Rock lawyer, who observed how imperfect was the Arkansas democracy. As one of the band of lawyers with Winthrop Rockefeller’s Election Research Council, he investigated election fraud in some of the state’s most notorious machine counties — Conway, Perry, Phillips, Crittenden and Searcy. He would become a solitary avenger for disenfranchised voters, all of those whose force at the ballot box each year was diminished by voting fraud. He filed lawsuits and dodged grand juries and jail to stop illegal votes and ballot bribery and theft. Minutes before a trial in Searcy County, leaders of both parties agreed that if Glaze would drop the suit they would sign a consent order to end the system of vote buying. A voter leaving a voting place might be given a dried speckled butterbean or some other secret token, which he would redeem for cash with the designated agent of the party for having voted the right way.

As deputy attorney general under Honest Joe Purcell in 1967, Glaze rewrote the state election code, which promised fairer and secret ballots, and the legislature and Gov. Rockefeller made it law. Courts are notoriously skittish about election disputes, whether they regard fraud or mere error, but Glaze would insist, sometimes in dissent, that the appellate courts get to the bottom of them. He never let go of the suspicion that corruption was prevalent and widespread.

His humility always seemed a little quaint, even in his valedictory. He wrote a letter this week to hundreds of friends and supporters so that they would hear of his resignation from him personally and receive his thanks. He wrote: “I am simply overcome with gratitude when I reflect on the blessings of having family and friends who, while perhaps disagreeing on some matter upon occasion, expected and trusted me to do the task with integrity and honesty.”

They did and he did. Have a long and abundant retirement, your honor.